Partisan debate on guns lacks clarity and honesty

Protesting President Trump's massacre condolence tour when it reached Dayton last week, a man held a sign reading, "You are why." But as objectionable as the president's demeanor often is, the protester's sign was just politically partisan wishful thinking.

For while the mass murderer in El Paso appears to have hated the illegal immigrants often disparaged by the president, the one in Dayton appears to have been a leftist, a supporter of Antifa and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, as was the crazy who shot up the Republican congressional baseball team's practice in Arlington, Virginia, two years ago.

On the weekend of the El Paso and Dayton massacres there were 50 shootings in Chicago, a city long under Democratic management in a heavily Democratic state. A few days ago two people were shot together in Hartford, and nearly every day produces shootings not just in Hartford but also in Bridgeport and New Haven, where there are hardly any Republicans. Shootings are now the way of life in Democratic urban America, and politicizing those shootings would impugn the president's most strident critics.

Good if the latest massacres induce Congress to pass legislation increasing background checks for gun purchases. But most purchases − those made through licensed dealers − already require background checks. The exceptions are guns sold privately, and these are seldom used in mass shootings. Indeed, most guns used in mass shootings have been obtained legally after background checks, and there does not seem to be anything in the records of the perpetrators in El Paso and Dayton that would have disqualified them from their guns. Most crazies are not criminals before their mass murders.

Good also if Congress passes "red flag" legislation, establishing procedures for challenging a gun owner's fitness − provided, of course, the procedures include sufficient due process. But a "red flag" law can work only if a gun owner advertises his guns, and few gun owners bent on mayhem are likely to do that.

Maybe large-capacity ammunition magazines should be prohibited, but empty magazines are easily replaced in two or three seconds.

That leaves outlawing "assault weapons." But how are those to be defined other than by their ability to fire a series of bullets with repeated trigger pulls but without immediate reloading? Except for barrel size there is little difference in technology between "assault weapons" and ordinary handguns.

For nearly all modern guns except shotguns are "semi-automatic." Fully automatic guns, guns that spray bullets by a single pull and hold of the trigger, are the only real military guns and their possession is already highly restricted. Few are in civilian hands.

Semi-automatic has been the norm with civilian guns since Connecticut's Sam Colt perfected the revolver almost two centuries ago.

As a practical matter an "assault weapon" is just any rifle that scares somebody.

So nearly all modern guns in civilian possession can be called "assault weapons," and if semi-automatic guns are to be outlawed, nearly all guns in civilian possession will be illegal. That would require more than tinkering with the Second Amendment. It would require repeal and confiscation.

The country is in a tough spot. It is full of both crazies and guns and the issue is far more difficult than its partisans let on. Whatever should be done, it will have to start with more clarity and honesty than the debate has provided so far.

Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.




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